Author Archives: commongroundkansas

About commongroundkansas

Consumers aren't getting the real story about American agriculture. We're a group of farm women and we plan to change that by doing something extraordinary. Our program is called CommonGround and it's all about starting a conversation between women who grow food, and the women who buy it. This is our chance to set the record straight and to help get you the facts about farming and your food. We hope you'll join in the conversation.

Farmer Perspectives: Trial By Fire

By Janna Splitter, CommonGround Kansas Volunteer Farmer

 Janna and her husband met in 4-H as kids growing up in the Lyons, Kansas, area. Now, they are carrying on the fifth-generation family farm while raising their two daughters.

My husband and I have farming in our blood. We were both raised on a farm and earned agricultural degrees in college. Yet, taking on a farm business is a big undertaking. In fact, many farmers take years — even decades — to fully hand-over the reins.

My husband, Matt, and I were sole owners of a fifth-generation family farm by the ages of 25 and 23, respectively. Even with our background and education, the transition was abrupt. Our personal heartbreak also dramatically affected our career plans when we lost my father-in-law to cancer in March 2010.

 

Our village

Due to the increasing average age of farmers nationwide, some experts estimate almost 10 percent of America’s farmland will change hands in the next five years. We’re part of that trend.

Despite the abrupt start to our farming career, we’ve been able to grow our farm, in part, by providing custom-farming services. In a custom-farming arrangement, we agree to plant and harvest a crop in exchange for a set fee or rate. We grow wheat, corn, soybeans and grain sorghum on our own land and our clients’ fields.

We’ve been fortunate my own father farms close to us and has been a great sounding board for advice. We’ve also surrounded ourselves with people who support our farm, from our crop insurance agent to our local banker.

 

Banking and insurance

Today, I’m the full-time bookkeeper for our farm and chief kid wrangler for our two daughters. Like most people my age, it took a little time to find my footing as our long-term plans to join the family farm became more immediate.

In fact, I had two “off-the-farm” jobs before finally settling in as a full-time employee of our business. My first job was as a program technician for our local branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).

It was a temporary position helping certify crop acres, which means I would help verify what crop was being grown and on what specific fields. I also helped with crop insurance programs. These programs are vital to helping ensure farmers can confidently farm each year. Just like car insurance, farmers only use crop insurance if there is a wreck. This can be a hail storm that wipes out a crop. The insurance is designed to almost cover enough expenses that farmers can try again next season.

One bad storm should not wipe out years of effort in building a farm. Plus, it helps our country develop a safe, dependable food supply when we can rely on farmers being in business year after year.

I’ve seen farming from all sides — as a mother purchasing farm-grown food in the grocery store, as a government employee helping steady the impact of Mother Nature on farm businesses and as a new farmer myself.

With every bite of food, I’m reminded of all the people it takes to ensure my food is safe, affordable and can be counted on, rain or shine.

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Restorative Yoga on the Farm Offers Relaxation and Opportunity to Meet Farmers

A sunset yoga session offered about 50 guests an opportunity for complete relaxation during CommonGround Kansas’s second Yoga on the Farm event on Saturday, Sept. 23, on the Neitzel and Nunemaker family farm.

In a beautiful green pasture just east of Lawrence, guests gathered for a restorative yoga practice led by instructor Cherish Wood. The practice involved holding gentle poses designed to restore the body and soul. Ticket sales benefited Just Food, Douglas County’s primary food bank. Guests also donated more than 128 pounds of non-perishable foods to the organization, helping community members who don’t enjoy the same freedom of choice in their food and simply struggle to provide the most basic needs.

As the sun was setting, the yoga session concluded and guests heard from CommonGround farmer volunteers Kim Baldwin, Frances Graves, Kelsey Pagel and Krystale Neitzel, whose family raises cattle in the pasture where the event was held. Each farmer described their family farms and the most common questions they’re asked about how they raise food.

Afterward, the group descended the hill following a tiki torch-lit path to a pond-side reception area where they enjoyed post-yoga wine, hors d’oeuvres and conversation with farmers and other guests. Just moments earlier, about a dozen cattle had quietly taken a dip in the pond while the group watched from the hilltop.

“It was really neat to experience conversations with complete strangers who had different backgrounds and life experiences, but could still connect through our shared interests,” said farmer volunteer Kim Baldwin, who farms and ranches with her family near McPherson. She and guests discussed raising bees and popcorn on their central Kansas farm.

“As a mom and farmer, life is pretty busy for me right now with fall harvest and school in full swing,” Baldwin added. “Attending the yoga session allowed me some precious “me time” while also having the opportunity to share my farm with them.”

Farmer volunteer Frances Graves, who farms and ranches with her husband’s family near Bartlett, said most of the guests she spoke with were from Johnson County.

“We discussed the urban/rural divide between producers and consumers,” she said. “I was surprised to hear how much they remembered details of ag operations surrounding the urban area that were developed now, or knew of working farms that still existed near Johnson County. We seemed to share a common sense of pride as Kansans, knowing how much of our state produced the food we eat, even if it wasn’t a part of their daily life in urban Kansas City.”

Graves, who studied at the University of Kansas, spent the weekend in Lawrence and said she was struck by how many restaurants promoted having local ingredients and using only local meat, meaning raised in Kansas or a surrounding state.

“Most of the people I met with were used to this type of labeling and believed it added to their restaurant experience,” she said. “I think events like our Yoga on the Farm help remind consumers that our local farmers are providing the food that they buy at the grocery stores too, even if it’s not labeled as a specialty item.”

Special thanks to the Neitzel and Nunemaker families, who operate Bismarck Farms/Gardens, for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land.

Events like Yoga on the Farm bring farmers and consumers together to discuss farming and food and build relationships to help folks feel more confident in their food choices. Have a question? CommonGround farmer volunteers are here to help! Send us a message or visit findourcommonground.com to learn more.

 

 

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Feast on the Fe brings together farmers and foodies

Farmer volunteer Jenny Burgess visits with guests at Feast on the Fe, Sept. 15, in Salina, KS

CommonGround Kansas sponsored the second annual Feast on the Fe on Sept. 15, a celebration of local food and entertainment bringing a diverse subset of the Salina community to one table. The farm-to-fork dinner served 160 guests with five courses, each from a local chef, in an outdoor meal along Santa Fe street near the Masonic Center.

The event showcased the Salina community through local farmers, chefs, entertainers and a collaboration of local businesses and nonprofit organizations. Proceeds benefited Prairieland Market, a local non-profit cooperative.

Participating chefs for the event included Tony Dong, owner of Martinelli’s Little Italy; Eric Shelton and Michael Styers of the Salina Country Club; Tyler Gallagher, owner of Seraphim Bread; Shana Everhart of the Swedish Crown restaurant and Renaissance Cafe; and Laura Lungstrom, head cook at Soderstrom Elementary School in Lindsborg.

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Each place setting included a CommonGround pint glass

Musicians Dex Umekubo with Dean Kranzler performed for the pre-dinner social hour, and the Pale Fire Kings from Kansas City were featured after the feast.

“The Feast on the Fe provided great food and wonderful conversation,” said Melissa Reed, dairy farmer and volunteer from Abilene, KS. “It was easy to get to know the people around you as they all smiled from the delicious five-course meal that was presented.”

Each place setting included a CommonGround pint glass that guests could take home. Three CommonGround Kansas volunteer farm women, including Reed, Kim Baldwin and Jenny Burgess, took a seat at the table to converse with community members about how food is raised and answer questions about their farms. They also gave a brief introduction about their farms during the event’s opening remarks.

Guests enjoyed a five-course meal and live entertainment

“Chefs from around the Salina area pulled out all the stops and brought forth their best for this event,” Reed added. “Each dish used Kansas grown or raised, produce, meat and dairy highlighting the excellence in Kansas agriculture. With music in the background and the sun behind clouds, it made for a beautiful evening.”

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Flow Yoga on the Farm Benefits Just Food, Connects Farmers and Grocery Shoppers

We kicked off summer with our first-ever Flow Yoga on the Farm on Saturday, June 3, in a gorgeous green pasture just east of Lawrence. The weather was perfect! Thanks to the nearly 70 guests who came together for this beautiful yoga practice and food drive. Together, we raised more than $300 for Just Food and filled an entire barrel with food donations that will benefit community members in need.

After some sweat and savasana in the early summer sun, we enjoyed a fresh brunch with a make-your-own yogurt parfait bar, pastries, juice and milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy (the farm of CommonGround volunteer Melissa Hildebrand Reed).

We had a blast trying out some new yoga poses with instructor Cherish Wood of Kansas City. We might leave that challenging crow pose to the birds flying over our fields, but we had such fun and walked away with a good sweat. The shade was very welcome after our practice!

Farmer volunteers Frances Graves, Kim Baldwin and LaVell Winsor shared the most commonly asked questions about their farms. If you didn’t get a chance to visit with them after the practice, you can learn more about their farms here. They’re also available to answer questions that might pop up down the road, too. That’s what we’re all here for!

Special thanks to Lowell and Krystale Neitzel and their family for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land. You can learn more about their farm on Facebook. They’re known for their sweet corn, so don’t miss out on that later this summer. Yum!

Our farmer volunteers enjoyed connecting with folks in the Lawrence area and talking about how we raise food on our Kansas farms and ranches. Often, food and farming are divisive topics, but this event was full of positivity and great questions about all shapes and sizes of farms, which is what CommonGround stands for. We’re all about sharing our love for our land and our animals. If you have a question about how farmers and ranchers raise your food, we’re always here to chat so you can feel more confident in your food choices.

Learn more about the national CommonGround program at findourcommonground.com. Don’t forget to like CommonGround Kansas on Facebook and on Instagram at @commongroundks for details on future events.

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Farmers Share Tasty Bites With Bloggers

Farmer Kim Baldwin joined in virtually to share about her farm in central Kansas

The digital worlds of bloggers and farmers collided in a hip office space in Kansas City’s Crossroads District on Thursday, May 4, for a dinner hosted by GBS Influence. This exclusive event allowed small selection of invited bloggers an opportunity to meet the farm women growing food, while enjoying great discussion about farming and food over a beautiful meal.

The event was a partnership between GBS Influence, formerly of the GoBlogSocial conference, and the volunteer farm women of CommonGround. The evening began with mingling and introductions before guests were treated to a gorgeous antipasto and charcuterie spread, a kale, apple and chicken salad, and gluten-free cookies with l0cal milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy.

After the meal, guests took a few moments to complete a discussion guide, carefully considering the information they use to make food choices. Then, the group joined in a discussion about farming and food, with questions answered by CommonGround volunteers LaVell Winsor and Kim Baldwin, who joined us virtually from her farm.

Guests also received a booklet detailing each volunteer’s background, contact information and a recipe, as well as a CommonGround branded kitchen pack, including a spatula, measuring cup, cutting mat and towel.

One blogger and their guest will win a private tour of Kansas farms. The winner will be announced May 19. We can’t wait to see who it is! 

Thanks to GBS Influence and Shining Star Catering in making the night very Instagram-worthy!

We especially want to thank all the bloggers who joined us for a productive discussion about farming and food!

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Panel Discusses Farming & Food with Nutrition Professionals

Nutrition professionals joined farmers and researchers for a panel discussion prior to the Kansas Nutrition Council annual meeting.

About 50 nutrition professionals gathered Wednesday, Apr. 26, for conversation over drinks and hors d’oeuvres prior to the Kansas Nutrition Council annual meeting at the DoubleTree in Overland Park, KS. The event featured a panel discussion with farmers and researchers about how food is raised. The panel featured Dr. Dan Thomson, K-State Veterinary Medicine; Scott Thelman, Juniper Hill Farms, Lawrence, KS; LaVell Winsor, farmer, Grantville, KS; and Dr. Tom Clemente, University of Nebraska Plant Science.

CommonGround Kansas partnered with Kansas Pork and Kansas Farm Bureau to host the event. Guests were able to view a model pig barn and also use virtual reality glasses to see the inside of a pig barn. They also were able to talk one-on-one with farmers from around Kansas. 

Visit our Facebook page to watch the replay of the panel discussion via Facebook Live.

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Farmers and Ranchers Join Shocker Fans for a Day at the Ballpark

Kansas farmers and ranchers greeted Shocker baseball fans with souvenir cups of lemonade and fan giveaways during the Wichita State vs. Southern Illinois baseball game on Sunday, Apr. 9, at Eck Stadium in Wichita. Fans had a great view of the action from the right field pavilion, where they were able to get their farming and food questions answered by the families who raise crops and livestock on their nearby farms.

Three lucky families — Brandi Rice, Sonia Payne and Elisa Valencia — won four-packs of tickets to the game through a contest on the CommonGround Kansas Facebook page.

Fans also enjoyed giveaways including pom poms and sunglasses. Volunteers Kim Baldwin, Janna Splitter and Katie Sawyer welcomed fans to the pavilion and answered questions about their farms.

The cups of lemonade weren’t just a welcome refreshment for a sunny spring day. They were also a great illustration of how much weed killer is applied to an acre of cropland. Tyler Field is about two acres, so if it was a field growing crops, farmers would only apply about two lemonades’ worth of weed killer to the area. The visual reference offers an enlightening comparison to understand how little weed killer is prescribed and mixed with water to be applied to a large area.

CommonGround is a national volunteer-based organization that connects grocery shoppers with the farmers and ranchers who raise their food.

Grocery shoppers have more food choices — and questions — than ever before, yet few personally know a farmer or rancher they can feel comfortable having that dialogue with. Sourcing credible information on food production can be especially challenging with the abundance of conflicting information online. CommonGround offers an opportunity to go straight to the source.

CommonGround aims to help grocery shoppers make more fearless food choices by building connections with farmers and ranchers, providing opportunities to ask questions and offering links to resources rooted in science.

Learn more at findourcommonground.com.

Love for the land, our families, our friends and our food – that’s what fuels our CommonGround community. CommonGround is funded by America’s corn and soybean farmers. Learn more at findourcommonground.com.

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Farm to Fork Student Social Pairs Food, Fun and Farming for Midterm Study Break

Farmer Kim Baldwin talks about her family farm to K-State dietetics students.

Study breaks are especially welcome during busy weeks like this one, in which K-State students are busy with midterms and counting down to spring break. CommonGround hosted the K-State Student Dietetics Association monthly meeting with a special Farm to Fork Student Social Tuesday, Mar. 7, at the Bluemont Hotel in Manhattan, KS.

CommonGround volunteers Kim Baldwin and Melissa Hildebrand Reed kicked off the evening by sharing about their family farms. Kim raises crops and beef cattle on her farm near McPherson, KS, while Melissa works on a multi-generational dairy farm near Junction City, KS, that sells its glass-bottled milk in local markets. Agriculture students from K-State’s Food for Thought organization also briefly described their own family farms and unique areas of expertise, including swine, goat and sheep production.

Students enjoyed appetizers featuring ingredients made from Kansas-grown crops and livestock, including salsa and white corn chips, barbecue meatballs, chicken strips, veggies and ranch dressing, and chocolate chip cookies with a special ingredient: sorghum flour.

The menu included clues for a game of Farm to Fork Bingo, which featured a critical thinking exercise about the ingredients in the food, as well as a hunt for food facts around the room and opportunities to ask questions of farmers. The students also posted sticky notes with their answers to the statement, “When I think about today’s agriculture, I wonder …” The first five students to get bingo each received a prize pack including a CommonGround cutting mat, grocery bag, notepad and a $10 gift card to Radina’s Coffee House and Bakery.

The evening wrapped up with a Q&A session with the CommonGround farmers and Food for Thought students. Dietetics students left with a card listing helpful resources for future reference, such as BestFoodFacts.org, KansasFarmFoodConnection.org, and SafeFruitsandVeggies.com. They also took home a CommonGround spatula.

Special thanks to Food for Thought for helping make the event a success and to the K-State Student Dietetics Association for welcoming farmers to their meeting.

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Kansas Farms Highlighted at Hy-Vee Simple Fix Mini

img_5387Did you know much of the food you buy in the grocery store has a Kansas connection?

CommonGround Kansas hosted a Simple Fix Mini featuring Kansas-grown foods Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Topeka Hy-Vee. Guests enjoyed appetizers and wine, visited with Kansas farmers and prepared a three-course meal to take home and bake for their families.

The menu featured Southwest Avocado Ranch Salad, Layered Beef Enchiladas and Tres Leches Cake. Each recipe showcased connections to ingredients that are grown in Kansas, such as the wheat that goes into flour tortillas, corn that is fed to beef cattle and soybeans that are made into oil for salad dressing. The salad even featured grain sorghum as a topping.

Each work station was equipped with easy-to-follow recipes and all the prepared ingredients needed to create each dish.

Volunteers Melissa Hildebrand Reed, a dairy farmer near Junction City, and Laura Handke, a rancher near Atchison, visited with guests and answered questions about their farms. Guests also sampled flavors of milk from Hildebrand Family Dairy.

Hy-Vee dietitians Kylene Frost and Alyssa Gehle answered nutrition questions and served samples of the prepared meal.

The meal and event was sponsored by the farmers and ranchers of CommonGround Kansas. Ticket proceeds benefited Harvesters Community Food Network. Guests also brought canned and dry goods to donate.

Thank you to all who attended for the great discussions and for helping feed the hungry in our community!

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Less than a Lemonade

K-State football game

CommonGround Kansas volunteers talk to football fans during the Less than a Lemonade event before the K-State vs. Missouri State game on Sept. 24.

Have you ever wondered how much weed killer farmers apply to their fields? CommonGround Kansas volunteers answered that question with a helpful visual — a cup of lemonade and a football field — before the Kansas State vs. Missouri State football game in Manhattan, Kan., Sept. 24.

Football fans braved thunder and pouring rain during pre-game festivities, which included the “Celebrate Kansas Ag” tent near the southwest entrance to Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Volunteers Kim Baldwin, Karra James, Melissa Reed and LaVell Winsor handed out CommonGround reusable cups with servings of lemonade to demonstrate how little glyphosate is applied to an acre of crops, which is about the size of a football field.

As farmers, we only use what’s needed to control weeds. We use a small amount of herbicide, which gets diluted to the proper application rate by combining it with a large tank of water. You can rest easy when you see a sprayer in a field. Most of the liquid you see being applied to the crop is water.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by for conversation and refreshments! To learn more about how farmers raise crops, visit findourcommonground.com.

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